I'm always on the lookout for middle-grade fiction that will appeal to the kids but is also reading I would consider "good." I recently had the opportunity to review the new book- The League and the Lantern by Brian Wells to see if it fit those important qualifications.
The book is the first in a new series. In this introductory book, we meet Jake Herndon. He was not so popular as a sixth grader. But he's hoping for a new start with a new group in seventh grade. As part of his introduction to his new school, he attends a lock-in in The Museum of Science and Industry.
Jake begins with a rocky start, and things quickly go from bad to worse when he, along with two of his new classmates, get tangled up in something sinister happening in the museum. Jake ends up on the run in Chicago with his new friends. The three find themselves caught up in a centuries old mystery involving Abraham Lincoln, and Jake learns that all isn't as it seems with his family.
I was impressed with The League and the Lantern. As an avid reader myself and a teacher- formerly in a traditional school and now of my own children- with a master's degree in reading, I'm really picky when it comes to children's literature. And, unfortunately, there is much that doesn't impress me about modern children's literature. The League and the Lantern overcame some of my concerns, and, instead, brought me much to enjoy.
The characters are likable.
It doesn't matter how much I like the book from an educational perspective. If the characters in the book don't grab the attention of my kids, they won't read it. Or they probably won't enjoy it.
Jake is a likable hero that kids can relate to. What twelve or thirteen year old hasn't struggled with feeling insecure in a new group, wanting to make a good impression. The two friends that Jake ends up running with are also memorable and enjoyable. One is a girl, so girl readers will quickly be able to relate to one of the main characters as well.
One thing I thought would be particularly likable to the middle-grade reader is that the characters make many references to movies, tv, and cultural elements. Kids will be able to relate quickly.
There are positive values floating around.
The fact that it's okay to be different, to be the "weird kid," is an idea that abounds in The League and the Lantern. Jake and his three friends all stand out as the "strange" kids at the beginning of the story. But in the end, they save the day.
Love of family and the strength of friendship is emphasized throughout the relationships of the characters in the book. Even though Jake and his two friends haven't known each long, they learn what it means to depend on each other and trust each other.
The story is filled with action and adventure but isn't "dark."
So many middle-grade kids' books seem to find the need to be a little dark and disturbing in order to grab kids' attention. The League and the Lantern doesn't head that way. It's action-filled and fast-paced. But there are lighter, funny moments. And the story doesn't have that dark and weighty feel.
Don't get me wrong. There's a body count here. Things aren't all fun and games, and there is some very real violence. But good is triumphing. And, as the story unfolds, it's clear who is good and who is bad.
The book has educational value.
Shhh. Don't tell the kids. There are key vocabulary words used throughout the story. The author has a guide in the bonus section of the book's website where parents can find a great vocabulary guide to help them in pointing out some of these words to kids.
Other than the rich vocabulary, the book is filled with historical references and events. From references to the exhibits in The Museum of Science and Industry to the focus on Abe Lincoln's assassination, kids will pick up lots of history along the way. Also included in the website's bonus section is a Fact vs. Fiction section where kids can find out which facts from the book are totally historically accurate and learn more about the historic time period.
If you're looking to extend the learning from the book, the bonus section on the site also has a great guide that helps readers to make connections between Lincoln's speeches and the Bible. It references Lincoln's speech from the book and shows how it relates to Biblical principles.
Other than the content of the book, something I thought was particularly great was the publisher has a buy one- give one program, For every book purchased, they give one to a child in need. That's another great reason to buy.
If you're looking for more information about the book- including that awesome bonus site- check out The League and the Lantern official site. You can purchase the book on Amazon here.
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